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How to Optimize For Different Types of Featured Snippets}

How to Optimize For Different Types of Featured Snippets

Published 09 April 2024

Here, Emily Gertenbach of E.G Creative Content runs us through the basics of featured snippets, including the different types and how to optimize for position 0.

In the process of creating content for your website, you've probably had numerous conversations about how to "rank at the top" or "be number one" in Google search results.

While position number one is, of course, great, it's not the only way to appear at the top of an organic SERP.

I'm not talking about paid ads, either. One of the most reliable ways to appear at the very top of a SERP is to optimize for the featured snippet.

Let's take a closer look at what a featured snippet is, how you can target it, and what this opportunity might mean for your site's organic traffic.

Contents:

Featured snippets appear at the top of Google, providing a descriptive answer right on the search engine results page (SERP):

These snippets are often called "position zero," as they show up above all the other organic results on the page. There are pros and cons to appearing in this spot. 

On the one hand, if your webpage appears in a featured snippet, you're the first result a searcher sees, which is fantastic for brand awareness and authority. On the other hand, featured snippets can be so descriptive that the searcher's question gets answered right on the SERP—and they never click through to view your website.

Despite this risk of a zero-click search result, achieving the featured snippet is still generally thought to be a net positive, as it brings more attention to your brand than nearly any other organic feature on a SERP (aside from, perhaps, knowledge panels—but that’s a topic for another time). 

Featured snippets appear in a few different formats. The type of featured snippet displayed on a SERP depends on the user's search intent—and the content on the webpage. 

If you're optimizing your content for position zero, then it's essential to have a firm grasp on the search intent for a query. This will guide the type of content you create—and increase your likelihood of grabbing that top featured snippet spot.

1. Paragraph snippets

A paragraph snippet is a short block of descriptive text pulled directly from a webpage. It typically appears for "what is X?" type searches that have a strong informational intent—and a clear, direct answer.

If Google considers a portion of the snippet to be relevant, they may include a highlight as part of the result. You can see this highlight in action on the snippet when searching for "what is COVID?":

Sometimes, Google displays related images alongside the paragraph snippet. This happens on the SERP for "what is structured data?":

2. List snippets

A list snippet appears as either an ordered or unordered list of steps. It's typically displayed at the top of "how to" queries in Google search:

That said, it can also appear for queries that are likely to return multiple data points at once, such as this search for "highest paid CEOs":

3. Table snippets

Table featured snippets display comparative information, in table form. To land this featured snippet, you'll need to have a relevant table on your site—like this one that comes up when we search for "CRM pricing options":

There are many search queries for which a table or an unordered list could work, so you'll need to pay close attention to what's already performing well in the SERP when deciding how to structure your content. 

4. YouTube video snippets

Embedded, playable YouTube videos can also appear in the featured snippet spot. These typically appear for "how to" queries instead of a list. Here's what comes up when we search "how to curl hair":

If you aren't sure what kind of content is best for a how-to query, you can put both a how-to video and a list on your website. This may increase your chance of achieving position zero. 

Other rich results

Featured snippets aren't the only way to appear as a multimedia or "rich" result near the top of the SERP. You can also land directly above or below position #1 by:

Examining the existing SERP is the best way to establish whether you should aim to appear in the featured snippet position, rely on a knowledge panel, or shoot for inclusion in another existing feature like People Also Ask.

If you DON'T see a featured snippet on the SERP, you can try to land another feature on the page—while also including clear lists, tables, and definitions to potentially become the first featured snippet for that query.

If you DO see a featured snippet on the SERP, then you can follow the steps below and attempt to create an even better piece of content and replace the existing website holding position zero.

As with nearly all SEO activities, optimizing for the featured snippet starts with some keyword research. 

1. Find featured snippet opportunities

The best way to optimize for featured snippets is by identifying the search terms you already rank highly for. 

You can find current keyword ranking information on a site you own by looking in Google Search Console, a keyword tool like Ahrefs, or by running a site audit using Sitebulb and selecting the "Keywords" panel along the right side:

On the screen that appears, select the list of keywords you'd like to view: 

Sort the resulting list by position to identify your top keywords—or export it all into a CSV or Google Sheets file, if preferred. 

Take the list of keywords that your site performs well for and plug the top performers into your keyword tool of choice, or an incognito Google search tab. Note what comes up.

  • Is there a featured snippet on the SERP?
  • What kind of featured snippet is it?
  • Are there other rich features on the SERP, like People Also Ask?

Next, repeat this process for keywords you want to rank for—such as upcoming key topic clusters on your content calendar. Note the same elements when evaluating the SERP. 

2. Prioritize opportunities

Once you've developed a list of keywords and current SERP features, consider which ones will be the easiest and the hardest to tackle.

If you're already in position one or two for a keyword but aren't holding the featured snippet spot, these will likely be the easiest ones to achieve.

And if you're interested in landing position zero for a new keyword, starting with the ones that have a low competition score—and good search volume—can help you ramp up your featured snippet work. 

If a competitor is currently ranking in the featured snippet spot, it's helpful to evaluate how strong their content is. Tools like Clearscope assign a letter-grade style quality score to content—and it’s worth noting that lots of pages you’ll find appearing in position zero aren't A+ standard! 

Sometimes, all it takes to snag the featured snippet is creating content that's more well structured, and on a stronger domain, than the current result. 

3. Understand search intent

After you've established which keywords you'll try to target first, familiarize yourself with the search intent for each query. 

Some keyword research tools, like SE Ranking, will tell you this when you look up a term. You can figure it out yourself, though, by evaluating the SERP results. You'll typically be dealing with:

  • Informational search intent
  • Navigational search intent
  • Transactional search intent
  • Commercial search intent

Knowing the difference can help you better target your content to appear in the featured snippet spot. 

While this isn't a hard and fast rule, you'll often find that informational searches generate a paragraph, list, or YouTube video snippet. A commercial search might result in a table or a list snippet. 

4. Structure your content

By now you've evaluated your keywords, examined the SERP, and planned out what kind of snippet you'll target for each query on your list. 

The next step is to create—or restructure—your content to align with the type of snippet you want to produce. 

Paragraph snippets

To achieve a paragraph featured snippet, you'll want to make sure your content has clear, concise answers to relevant questions. Concentrate the paragraph you'd like to have appear in the snippet toward the top of your content—or near an H2 subheading if that makes more sense. 

List snippets

Similarly, lists should appear high in your content, close to the H1 header or an H2. For example, if you're writing a 2,000 word guide on rewiring a light fixture, go ahead and write out all the steps and label each section with an H2. 

Then add a numbered, ordered list (or unordered, bulleted list) at the top of the page that just lists those H2s. It should give a quick overview of the steps included in the article—and this list is what Google will ideally pick up as the featured snippet. 

Table snippets

If you want to snag the featured snippet with a table, place one at the most logical spot on your page, given the surrounding content. Lead into your table with a clear H2 subheader, and make sure you're using a true HTML table—not an embedded image or dynamic widget.

Video snippets

As for video snippets, be sure to upload the videos you create to YouTube specifically, not Vimeo or another service. To get your video selected as a Google featured snippet, you'll have to use Google's video platform of choice. Make sure the video has a descriptive title, chapters, and an excellent summary too—these three things can help nudge it toward featured snippet placement.

5. Use SEO best practices

Ultimately it's not enough to simply publish a website with some lists and tables. Just as when you try to optimize your site to appear in position one, you need to maintain a good SEO strategy in general if you want to be position zero. 

This means your entire site—not just the page that contains snippet content—should be well structured, offer good user experience, use keywords appropriately, align with E-E-A-T principles, and both contain and receive valuable links. Plus, you'll want to ensure your site is well-optimized for mobile, as that's Google's primary focus when indexing new pages. 

Running regular site audits with Sitebulb will help you identify and address any potential SEO issues that might hold you back from gaining the featured snippet position on new SERPs. The "all hints" overview is particularly useful for developing a list of issues to address. (You can download Sitebulb on a 2-week free trial here.)

"Featured snippet" is really a Google term—and, as when discussing many SEO topics, we tend to refer to Google as a main point of reference. 

Other search engines have similar featured snippet-style results, though–such as DuckDuckGo Instant Answers. The steps you take to optimize your website for Google featured snippets will help you get the corresponding position zero on other search engines' results pages, too. 

Featured snippets as described in this guide are still the top search result for various queries in most parts of the world. 

Search is always changing, though, and the featured snippet is no exception. In 2023, Google began testing their "Search Generative Experience" (SGE) in select markets. SGE brings AI-chat style features to the SERP, and sometimes replaces the featured snippet as we know it. 

We can expect to see AI-enabled features continue to appear on the SERPs, and they may eventually fully replace or restructure the featured snippets we see today. 

Google SGE and featured snippets

Google SGE produces answers that include paragraphs and lists, just like a traditional featured snippet. The difference, though, is that these blocks of text aren't pulled verbatim from a website like the featured snippet is. 

Instead, Google uses AI to generate a unique answer. It does lift sections of this answer from existing websites, though, so clear definitions and ordered or unordered lists can still help you land at the top of SGE-enabled SERPs. 

This is particularly important because SGE-enabled SERPs are long. The SGE answer box fills up most of the SERP real estate at the top of the page, and users have to actively scroll down to see traditional results. 

While it's possible that the length and breadth of SGE answers will result in more zero-click searches over time, you're still better off having your brand listed as a source right at the top, in the SGE answer, versus ranking in the traditional position #1 that falls well below the fold.

Keeping a focus on position zero

As the way we search for information continues to change and evolve, a sound foundation in good SEO best practices will remain essential for landing position zero—whether it's a traditional featured snippet, an AI-generated summary, or something else. 

By continuing to optimize for the different available featured snippets, and monitoring Google's evolution, you'll be prepared to reach the top of nearly any SERP regardless of the features it contains. 

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Emily Gertenbach

Emily Gertenbach is a B2B SEO writer and consultant located in the Boston area. She specializes in helping SaaS companies connect with their ideal business clients through organic search—and loves being able to break down complex topics in ways that are easy for her clients (and their audiences) to understand.

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